From the outside I think most people would consider me to be a strong person. If there’s one thing I think I’ve succeeded at throughout my life it’s the ability to project a certain image and have people believe it. Don’t get me wrong it’s an image that I wanted to project and that I also believed. It’s the ”me” that I wanted to be. Composed from a smattering of images from personalities seen on the screen of what was cool, what was smart, what was compassionate, what was strong, what was wise. That’s the carefully crafted persona that I created for myself and for others to see. I took pieces from my family members, from friends, from movie characters, from anyone. I was, I am, a chimera. I got my tendency to make fun of people from a friend I looked up to in high school. I got my calm composure from my dad, I got my sensuality from movies, my honesty, my integrity, my strength, all from different sources. I embedded them into who I am.
But how much of them are really me? How much of that is truth and how much is facade? I can honestly say that I don’t have an answer. At times, I feel convinced that is me and others, when I fail to live up to the ideals I’ve set for myself I question everything. I don’t know if that’s healthy or not but it’s all I know to do.
Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, between the ideals I espouse and the weaknesses I shun. Maybe it’s more complicated.
On the topic of strength I have more than enough evidence to suggest that I have not attained my ideal. This presents itself time and time again in a number of ways but the truth is it’s been around for a very long time. In fact it’s always been there, this uncomfortable unconscious nagging feeling that I’m not what I think I am.
One of my closest friends one called me a “fucking coward” during the one fight we ever had. It left a permanent mark that keeps reminding me that there’s always more than what we see of ourselves, or more accurately, accept of ourselves.
Today that statement, made in anger years ago, but full of truth, is as relevant as ever. It’s also as true as ever. See, the thing is, as I first stated, I appear to all accounts to be a relatively strong person. My life story in the grand scheme of things seems to point to someone defined by strength. But I’m not sure the reality, the details, support that story-line.
Here’s why outwardly it might seem that it does. Born in Haiti, exposed to civil war and coup d’états gives a bit of credibility. Moving to a new country on your own for university and seemingly making the best of it implies a certain strength of character. Starting your own business and appearing to do well, then deciding to take off and travel the world, just takes it over the top. Well those are the broad strokes and I admit, if I were to come across someone with the same background I’d likely also think the person might be a strong character. But life, is about the details. And my details reflect something different.
Sure I grew up in Haiti and witnessed some pretty traumatic experiences but for the most part I was sheltered. No, not in the way the average American or Canadian is sheltered but it’s all relative isn’t it? Yes I saw dead bodies but my life was never threatened. Yes I heard cannon blasts but I was never close. I grew up exposed to guns but never really needed one. For the average Haitian I was pretty sheltered.
And my move to Canada? Well, sure it was a huge change but it was also familiar. I had been to Canada over a half dozen times before and was familiar with Montreal before I moved and while I adapted well, it wasn’t without its periods of uncertainty. I developed a short flirtation with cutting myself. It began with cutting a nickname onto my forearm and then some cuts into my chest, then it got satisfied with the discovery of a personal symbol which I carefully etched into my upper arm with an exacto knife. The need disappeared from there, coinciding with better integration into the Montreal culture and finding a reliable social group. I wouldn’t necessarily consider that strength.
University was not the experience I expected. The program I entered was not what I wanted and my immersion into the social group entailed late nights, tons of weed and a compete lack of appreciation for the academic side of learning. I simply ended up in the wrong university and the wrong specialization.
This lead me a few years later to taking the first career opportunity that seemed interesting. Design. Fostered by the mentor-ship of a close friend, the idea of being able to work from home, earn a living and do something that was interesting was an easy choice. I took it, partly for convenience, partly because nothing else held any interest. That wasn’t strength, though many have attributed strength to the decision to strike off on my own and buck the traditional trend of working a 9 to 5. The truth was far from bravery. Depending on your perspective you might even consider it cowardice.
Then after 12 years of barely surviving and sometimes only getting by with the help of my parents who were always there and always supportive, I struck out on my own again and started my own company without the compromises or security of partners. It had taken 12 years to gather the confidence to take on the world on my own. The results were mixed. While I managed to survive it could hardly be said that I thrived. But it was what I knew and it was what I believed in. I had hope.
5 years later I took one more step, to live on the road for 2 years. On the surface again it may have seemed like a decision taken from a position of strength but the truth is it was more of a “fuck it” moment than anything. Sure it had been a dream but the decision wasn’t taken because I was ready for the challenge but because I just felt like there was nothing to lose. I’m not sure that’s a decision taken from a position of strength.
In fact the only real strength I have felt in the past couple years has been through the bearing of my soul on these pages. But the rest, the day to day experiences of my life, uncover something different. They remind me of that feeling I mentioned earlier. That uncomfortable unconscious feeling.
The thing is throughout my entire life I’ve had this one filament that has connected every dot of my existence, and I’m sad to say, it is NOT bravery. On the contrary it’s this feeling of inferiority, of not knowing what someone else might, of not having access to the physical, economic, social, mental, spiritual resources that others might. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that statistically I’m better off than most people on the planet in terms of most of those criteria, but emotionally, it doesn’t play out that way. On the one hand, as I mentioned in a previous post, I feel like things don’t matter as much to me or aren’t as valued to me as they might be to another, but on another hand, I also always think they have a certain authority over me. This is something that’s rarely shaken. Despite one of my best friend’s anarchist tendencies, I simply don’t have the inherent trait of resisting unless I’m really pushed, and often it’s too late. It takes a lot to get me to the point where I fight back and that’s not a good thing. On the one hand it makes me reliable and predictable, but on the other it also means I don’t fight back immediately when taken advantage of. Luckily, due to the image I project I’m not often taken advantage of, but when people either see through it, or just don’t care, I’m late to fight back, chalking it up to their state of disadvantage, which is in my opinion just a form of cowardice on my part. It’s the single underlying weakness that permeates my life that has implications on almost every aspect of my life. It is the one most pressing trait that I’m trying to fight and find a way out of.
The problem is this, and it’s many-fold. I grew up with a sense of privilege that I knew was not deserved. I hadn’t worked for it and therefore hadn’t deserved it. I had a very strong father, who admittedly scared the hell out of me in many ways. The irony is, he’s the softest, sweetest guy both at the core of him and at the surface. The problem is, between those 2 layers was a very hard side, a sort of façade that he created and embraced to essentially get things done. I was able to see through the top layer but didn’t get past the middle layer to see his soft core until I was much much older. This put me in a position of weakness in all that concerned family matters. I think in a way it played out and had much larger consequences on how I saw the world. In essence, I’ve gone through life seeing that middle layer of people and not being able to get past it. I see the softness of people, but if it’s covered in that hard mantle, even if the surface is gentle, it puts me at a disadvantage. In a way, my sense of strength belies a deep recognition of weakness. So, while I will fight back if pushed, I will ONLY fight back if pushed. Little jostles won’t do it and that’s been seen as a strength but I have to wonder whether it’s in fact the problem. Of course these are generalizations, but they do reflect a certain truth that permeates my life. I get lost in the liberal “life is complicated” paradigm and accept that as truth and let too many things fly under the radar. It’s the one permanent battle that determines soooo much of who I am and how I approach life. My father once said I was not street-smart. The fact is, that’s not true, I actually am, but I’m not street-tough, and that’s just as bad.
I’ll provide a perfect example. Just as I was writing this, at a hostel in Buenos Aires, alone to one side of the basement while a group of Colombians and Venezuelans were enjoying their night a few feet away, one member of the group said goodnight and left with what I believed was my lighter. I mentioned it, and he stated he was 100% sure that it was his. I never have 100% certainty. While I said I was 95% sure it was mine and that I had lost mine this very night amongst the group, I ceded the lighter to him. To me, a lighter isn’t worth much and if you think with 100% certainty it’s yours, then I say “take it”. It’s not a big deal in my life. In the end, was it is his? I don’t know. Is it cowardice to cede it to him? I am not sure. Is it worth a fight? In my opinion, there’s little to be gained from that, so my answer is no. Is that the right thing to do? I honestly don’t know. But it’s what I did. This is a specific but perfect example of how my doubt and lack of certainty play into what determines my life. Many things have less value to me than they do to others, and I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not. The lighter doesn’t affect my life and I’m not sure it’s worth a confrontation. While I’m pretty sure it was mine, if he feels the same, I know that lighters are a dime a dozen, and don’t have names written on them, is it really worth fighting for? I don’t know, but I’m generally ok with letting it go, though it does bring up this same question. In the end, the next day I found out it was his after all and mine was returned to me by someone else. In this case, I had made the right move, but that’s the thing that always breeds doubt. A lighter is a small case, but how about for bigger things?
So, here’s the reality of who I am as a person. I’m complicated. I’m a series of contradictions that aren’t easy to decipher, not even by me. I see myself as someone who has this package of qualities that may or may not be true, but it is also constantly under attack from my doubts. I do believe I’m a conscientious human being; intelligent, knowledgeable, temperate, and yes I will say it, strong. Despite all I’ve mentioned, I still believe that I have strength in me, even if there’s a ton of evidence to the contrary. I don’t know if my incredible ability to adapt is based on strength or weakness, but I choose to see it as a strength, because I do believe in the power and value of adaptability. I still see myself (hopefully without prejudice) as a good person, but as a flawed individual. There’s no doubt about that. But I see and am even more appreciative and sensitive to the flaws of others, and it makes me feel more human. I’m considerably more emotional than I’ve ever been and am working to accept that. I’ve noticed huge mood swings that I never experienced before, and I’ve noticed a tendency to want to cry that wasn’t there previously. Truth is, I would love a crying partner, but that’s not something you find readily in life, particularly not as a man. But I had my first true and real crying session of my life just over a month ago after getting back from my Patagonia hiking session and while it scared me, it was also liberating. For the first time, without the aid of a movie, I cried for 10 minutes straight, not because of an emotion I was shown but because of an emotion that I felt. In a way, for me, that was a breakthrough.
Traveling forces certain things to the surface and there can be no doubt about that. 22 months into the solitary backpacker lifestyle things have become much more evident to me than they ever have. For that I’m eternally grateful. I’ve made SOOOOOO many mistakes, veered off on the wrong tangents, disappointed myself and others, failed on so many levels. It’s been scary at times. But one thing I do find some consolation in, is that life is a journey. It’s not designed to be a straight road. It’s not designed to provide obvious answers, it’s not meant to be simple and easy. Making it simple and easy is a lifelong process filled with twists and turns, deceptions and obscurity. I’m uncovering those one at a time and hopefully will come out of this with something more to offer myself and others. I’ve given too little to others aside from a façade and fake wisdom. I want to be more. I want to give more and while I’m not sure how to do that, I am sure that at the very least, I have to start with me. The next few months of my life will be defined by that very notion. I don’t know if I will change my view of myself from cowardice to bravery, but I owe it to myself to at least try. What I do have, what I am now armed with, is a shedding of the façade, a recognition of the bullshit I’ve lived in, an acceptance of the complexity of what makes me – me. It’s at least a starting point. It’s not the simplicity of my early 20s when things were much more direct, simple, and clear, but I’m hoping the integration of the complexity of all that makes me me, will be an advantage that will help fuel where I go from here.